This is a post from my friend Robbie Pruitt who is the Youth Ministry Director at the Church of the Epiphany in Herndon, VA. He is also the founder of Adventure Discipleship.
Following Jesus is an adventure. No, following Jesus is the greatest adventure that anyone will ever undertake in their entire lives. When Jesus called his disciples, He called them in simplicity and in power. This ragamuffin group of individuals was a motley crew and Jesus’ challenge to them was unmistakably clear, “He said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ They immediately left their nets and followed Him.” The early disciples could not have known what Jesus had in store for them as they went out to be with Him. In Matthew 8:19-20, a certain scribe came, and said to Jesus that he would follow Him wherever He went, and Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”
The disciples were called to give up everything they knew to be safe and secure and to follow their Rabbi, to learn from Him, and to help accomplish His mission. They were called into community and mission that radically changed them and the world as we know it. As Jesus led His followers, He equipped them to lead to do the work that He had for them to do. The church was born out of Jesus’ work and His work in His first disciples.
We are also called by Jesus to make disciples as Jesus commands us, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ Amen (Matt. 28:18-20).” We are called to radical obedience in discipleship and in disciple making just as these early disciples were called out of what they knew to be comfortable into what God meant to be an adventure of a lifetime which wasn’t always comfortable.
At the onset of the early church, we see the beginning of this community as one who, as Acts 4:32-35 puts it, “Were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need.” This following of Jesus is an adventure like no other. It is wild and demands our full attention and affections if we are to “Take up our cross and follow Him (Matt. 16:24).”
I have put together a program and outreach called Adventure Discipleship that attempts to get back to this wild side of discipleship in our tame and cultivated culture of safety. Adventure Discipleship focuses on a series of interactive and experiential activities and lessons in the wilderness, and other untamed environments, to teach discipleship and leadership. These activities include service projects and short term missions, backpacking and hiking, canoeing and kayaking, mountain biking, rock climbing and rappelling, low ropes, leadership, and initiative activities, and hands on carpentry, construction, and repair classes. Using these activities as a jumping off point, teaching about following Jesus naturally occurs through teachable moments and active learning, through doing and experience, and “ah hah moments.”
Backpacking is one of my personal favorite adventure discipleship opportunities because you get to live in Christian community together, like in the Acts 4 scripture above. You also get the opportunity to break bread together, and lean on one another as you “’Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ and ‘Love others as well as you love yourself (Matt. 22:36-40).’” Backpacking provides time and space for intensive periods of worship, learning, Sabbath, recreation, fellowship, service, and encountering God out in His creation as Romans 1:19-20 puts it, “But the basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being. So nobody has a good excuse.”
When Jesus started His ministry He was led into the wilderness to encounter testing and He was ministered to by Angels. While Adam failed to obey God in a garden paradise, Jesus obeyed God in a deserted wilderness (Matt. 4). Just as God led Jesus into the wilderness, God calls his followers to wild, uncommon, uncomfortable, and unsafe places in life to learn of His desire for us to have fellowship with Him, know of His goodness, and follow His mission. God has a history of growing intimacy between Himself and His followers, and shaping and growing His disciples, in the wilderness. Discipleship is wild and adventurous because our God is wild and adventurous, which is why following Him is the greatest adventure of a lifetime!
Adventure Discipleship seeks to put discipleship back into adventure and adventure back into discipleship. We so often tame the gospel in how we present it. God has so much more in store for us than the ordinary when we seek to follow Him and seek Him out in all we do. This could include sleeping out under the stars and considering what it would be like to “have no place to lay your head.” It could include making personal sacrifices to “give a cup of cold water to the least of these.” It could be finding out that faith is not blind but that it is in something. As you rock climb and trust your equipment and are belayed, “faith being sure of the things that are hoped for (Heb. 11)” takes on a whole new meaning. It could be learning how to lead and make disciples as you lead your group on a hike. It could mean a deeper understanding of suffering and “picking up your cross and following Him” as you carry your mountain bike up a mountain and think of a wounded and beaten Jesus carrying His cross up a mountainside for us. It could be contemplating Jesus walking on water or preaching from a boat as you canoe a lake or a river.
Discipleship is an adventure and so is living for and following Jesus, so shouldn’t the way we learn about the gospel and following Jesus be an adventure as well?